Yesterday afternoon I received a phone call from a woman named Lisa. She identified herself as Tom Davis's daughter. I never talked to her before yesterday but I knew immediately why she called me. She told me that her dad, Tom Davis, had died.
Tom Davis was one of the few people who was instrumental in my life. I probably wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for Tom Davis. Back around 1968, when I was working for the old Girard Bank in Philadelphia (now Mellon Bank), Tom plucked me out of the trust department remittance clerk pool to ask me to work on a special project for him and his new unit. Tom was in charge of the input control unit. In his capacity as supervisor of the input control unit he saw my concern for accuracy and asked me take the summer and review all the trust department customer addresses for accuracy. I was flattered by his attention and accepted this new job.
To make a long story short, this small step began my job career progression from just being another faceless clerk in a large pool of workers to someone who cared and made a difference. From that job flowed other jobs which eventually put me into supervisory and management positions. Along the way there were other kind and caring people who recognized whatever talents I had and asked me to work for them. Some I accepted and some I turned down. But Tom was the first.
Over the years Tom's wife has always sent me Christmas cards to let me know how she and Tom and their three daughters were doing. I always looked forward to receiving those notes from his wife Irene. Thus it was with great sadness that I received the news of Tom's death yesterday. Part of me died when I heard this news.
Earlier in the week I also received news that my favorite high school teacher had died. His name was Raymond DiSerafino. We called him "Mr. D." When I had him, he was my science and health teach and also the track coach. During my school years I had a very low self esteem (mostly as a result from my father constantly belittling me.) Mr. D asked me to join the track team as a long distance runner and high hurdles. I joined but never did well. I always came in last on the mile run and when I ran the high hurdles I knocked down more than I jumped over. However, Mr. D kept me on the track team. Then there was one day that the best of the track team were selected to go to the Penn Relays held at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Naturally, I assumed I wouldn't be going since I never finished better than last in any of my track races. Imagine my surprise when I saw the list of track team members who were going to the Penn Relays and my name was on the list! I asked Mr. D why was I on the list. He asked me "Don't you want to go?" I said "Oh yes! I do want to go." He said that they needed someone to help with the equipment. He asked me if I could help. Could I? Absolutely! This was the best of both worlds. I would get to go to the Penn Relays but I wouldn't be making a fool out of myself by coming in last.
The day of the Penn Relays came and I happily help to load the equipment on the buses. I noticed that there were already students handling the equipment. They really didn't need me but I helped anyway. Thus I had one of my first experiences with someone doing something totally unselfish for me. It was obvious that I wasn't needed to help with the equipment. But that was alright because I was part of the team and helped unload the equipment and load it back up again.
I am 67 years old now. I have forgotten a lot over the past years. However, there are some things that made such an indelible change in my life, I have never forgotten them. One is Mr. D's kidness towards me. Mr. D later became the principal of the high school I attended. The athletic field was named after him. Mr. D died last week a much loved teacher and human being. I will never forget his kindness towards me nor will I ever forget Tom Davis's kindness. Both of these men were part of who I am today. I learned much from them.
In later years I also plucked individuals out of obscurity and gave them a chance for a new direction in their lives. I did this because of what I learned from these two men.
I'm not a religious person. I used to faithfully go to Sunday school when I was a little boy but got quickly turned off to the fire and brimstone brand of church that I was attending (Pentecostal.) In my later years when I was subjected to anti homosexual harangues from preachers of the many different churches I attended, I gave up on formal religion. I learned more about how to treat my fellow human beings from men like Tom Davis and Mr. D than I ever did in a church. I'm not condemning churches as a whole. I'm only saying that as a gay man, organized religion doesn't work for me. They seem to be more interested in condemning me and putting the fear of God into me than teaching me Christian principals. I've also attended a few gay churches but they don't work for me either. They seem to be more of a place to meet and socialize. That is all fine and well for many and I do not condemn them for performing that function. But I never had anyone do something for me that was as totally unselfish as these two men did. The churches I attended wanted my contributions and time. They never did anything to help me other than to tell me to help myself. Sometimes we need a little kindness from other human beings. I've been told that I'm too cynical but that has been my personal experience.
Over the years I have encountered other people who were kind and unselfish towards me and taught me the goodness of people's souls. They have been both men and women, straight and gay, white and black. Kindness comes in all colors and sizes. I have always tried to repay the kindness and unselfishness of these people over the years by doing the same myself. There have been times when some people have viewed this as a weakness and sought to take advantage of me. But thankfully, those people have been few and far in between. I still believe in the basic goodness of most of my fellow human beings.
To me life is a learning experience. Two of my early teachers are gone. I will miss them. But I will never forget them.